Former Wizards center Marcin Gortat offers his advice for Deni Avdija to navigate NBA life as a young defender

Jan 17, 2023 | Deni Avdija

Life in the NBA continues to have its ups and downs for the now 22-year-old Deni Avdija. The third-year forward has scored in single-digits in his last five games totaling 26 points on 36 percent shooting from the field. Avdija did however record a career-high 20 rebounds in Wednesday’s narrow victory over the Chicago Bulls. That performance made Avdija (22 years, 8 days) the second-youngest player in Washington Wizards/Bullets franchise history since the ABA/NBA Merger in 1976-77 to haul in 20+ rebounds in a single game (Chris Webber, 21 years, 270 days, 11/26/94 vs. LAL).

“It’s easy to say there is something to it, it’s just a want,” Wes Unseld Jr. described on Avdija’s 20 rebound benchmark. “You treat every shot as a miss and you got to want it, you got to go get it and he did that tonight.”

During Washington’s 4-game homestand that finished a disappointing 1-3 without Bradley Beal (left hamstring strain), former Wizards center Marcin Gortat returned to the team in his honorary assistant coach and player development role. As Gortat (dad) describes, he along with Kristaps Porzingis (uncle) and Avdija (son) form a family of international NBA players. Gortat and Avdija would play 1-on-1 after practice for the latter to work on his post-game offense (but also defense) which should come in useful when opposing teams try to stick their non-defender smaller guard on Avdija.

Throughout Avdija’s young NBA career, one constant has been him becoming frustrated with officials calling him for fouls he does not feel to be. Sometimes he has a strong case whether it was in the third quarter against the Knicks getting called for three fouls in 96 seconds or two first-quarter calls against Steph Curry, but he has to remember that the most important play is the next one.

“He needs to become more focused on staying aggressive during the game. The biggest improvement for him is when he does not catch easy fouls in the first quarter and he automatically gains more confidence and he’s more aggressive after that. I see as he gets a couple of easy fouls, in the first quarter, everything goes down for him,” Gortat astutely assessed.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“You got to let it go,” Gortat offered his advice for Avdija with the referees. “You got to understand that’s how this shit works in the league. He’s 22 years old and he’s going to get calls. As soon as he gets more experience, it’s going to be easier for him. He needs to let this thing go and just focus on playing basketball and making the right play, attacking the basket, shoot open shots and make open shots.”

The Wizards will play at the New York Knicks on Wednesday hopefully with Bradley Beal back and host the Orlando Magic on Saturday before embarking on a five-game road trip. At 18-26 and a fan base pleading for an overdue rebuild in Washington, any playoff hopes this season starts to look bleak, but let’s try to end on an optimistic note.

“I still believe he’s got a lot of ability to improve,” Gortat expressed on Avdija. “He definitely has a great body to play in the league, he’s athletic, he’s fast, he’s strong, he has a very good basketball IQ, he just got to get more experienced. He’s got to get more aggressive. I think it will come. This year is big for him, you got to continue to improve.”

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